Summary: Introduicing a series that helps us see how each smaller part fits into the big story of the Bible
A police inspector went to visit a primary school, where he’d been asked to take a Religious Education class. He thought he’d begin by checking what they knew about well known Bible stories. So he asked, ’Who knocked down the walls of Jericho?’ There was a long silence as the children shuffled nervously in their seats. Eventually, a young boy put up his hand and said, ’Please sir, my name is Bruce Jones. I don’t know who did it but it wasn’t me.’
The policeman thought that reply was a bit cheeky, so he reported the incident to the headmaster. After a pause the headmaster replied, ’I know Bruce Jones; he’s an honest chap. If he said he didn’t do it, then he didn’t.’
The inspector was flabbergasted. He wrote to the Department of Education to complain about this appalling lack of knowledge. Finally he received this response: ’Dear Sir, we are sorry to hear about the walls of Jericho and that nobody has admitted causing the damage. If you send us an estimate we will see what we can do about the cost.’
There was a time when that sort of ignorance of the stories of the Bible would have been unbelievable, but sadly it’s all too true these days. I’ve seen contestants on Sale of the Century (Temptation) being unable to name the four Gospels.
And I’m sure there are plenty of churchgoers who have a copy of the Bible on their shelves but rarely take it down to read it, let alone study it. Or who perhaps know a few favourite stories from the Bible but couldn’t say where they’re from or how they fit with the overall story of the Bible, if they even know there is an overall story of the Bible.
Well, today we begin a series I’ve entitled ’The User’s Guide to the Bible.’ Over the next 12 weeks or so we’ll be taking a journey through the Bible, beginning with Gen 1 and finishing at Revelation 22. But today I want to think about why we’re doing this. Why do we spend 20-30 minutes every Sunday studying God’s word? Why should we spend time every day studying God’s word?
The answer to that question is found in our first reading today. Not just in the well known verses 16 & 17 but in the previous verses as well: "14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." I want you to think about those words for a moment. "How from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
We celebrated our grandson’s first birthday a couple of weeks ago, and part of the celebration was a time of prayer and blessing for him as we dedicated him to God. We were each asked to write a prayer of blessing for him and as I sat down to think about what I’d like to pray I immediately thought of this passage. I guess that was partly because of the connection between the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother and that of Oliver’s mother and grandmother both of whom I expect will be instrumental in teaching him the faith. But it was also because this is so crucial for everyone’s growth in Christ. My prayer for little Oliver is that he’ll grow up knowing God’s word, and Jesus Christ, the way of salvation.
But let’s think about Timothy growing up in first century Ephesus. What were the sacred writings that Timothy would have been taught by his mother and grandmother? They weren’t the New Testament were they? That was still being written down. No, they would have been the Jewish Scriptures, our Old Testament. Now that’s not what we’d think of, I imagine, if someone mentioned the Scriptures that can instruct us for salvation. We’d think of the gospels, or perhaps the letters of Paul or Peter or James or John. But here, we’re talking about the Old Testament.
So here’s the first thing we learn. The whole Bible is worth exploring from start to finish if we want to fully understand the way of salvation.
But then look at the next two verses, the ones that lots of people will be able to rattle off by heart: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work."
All scripture is inspired, God-breathed. That in itself makes it worth studying, I would have thought. But then look at its utilitarian value. It’s useful for a whole range of things in the Christian walk: for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. God has given us these books to keep us on the right track, to show us when we wander off the path, when we go astray. He’s given them to us to correct our misconceptions about him, about righteousness, about justice, about how to live in this world. He’s given them to us to train us in how to live righteous lives. And he’s given them to us so we might be proficient: that is, skilled in serving God and equipped for every sort of good work.